In the second part of a series of articles, YesCymru Director, Geraint Thomas, asks who cares about Wales? Who cares enough about who governs us and how we are governed?
Despite scoring a record for a Senedd election, voter turnout was just 46.6% in the May 2021 Senedd elections – far behind turnout in England and Scotland.
While last week’s article focused on how history has demonstrated the extent to which Wales has been exploited and neglected from Westminster in particular, this article will show, how the lack of understanding, awareness and enthusiasm that flows from our own political institutions here in Wales, poses a real threat to our democracy.
As previously alluded to, party politics might well be a “murky soup”, but the question of who makes decisions for Wales is clear enough: the ruling Conservative party in Westminster and the Labour administration in Cardiff Bay. Further down the food-chain it is less clear; apart from the odd charismatic opposition leader, who knows anything about who is who, and what is what?
Do most of us actually know the difference between party, Government or Parliament in Wales? Do we really know where Westminster responsibility ends and the Senedd begins? How Welsh Government projects, statutory obligations, and regulations interact with governance? Can we grasp the absurdities and inadequacies of the devolution settlement as it stands today?
The lack of understanding of the basic functions of our democratic institutions is itself a threat to our devolved structures. But as time goes by, understanding improves, and so does confidence. Those who’ve grown up with the Welsh Government feel far more keenly that Westminster treats Wales poorly. They implicitly accept that Wales has a government and, as a result, are more likely to believe that Wales should stand on its own and divest itself of Westminster rule completely.
The Senedd is yet to win over the hearts and minds of all the citizens of Wales. A weak press and patchy broadcast media make it hard to cut through the confusion of overlap in political authority. And harder still for the Senedd and its politicians to communicate broadly, easily, and well with the whole of Wales. Even so, Wales has democratically and emphatically put its weight behind the Senedd. Twice.
Over the past few decades the Assembly and Senedd have changed the landscape of Welsh politics. In recent years, the people of Wales have seen the Westminster emperor in all its naked “glory”. Its cover has been blown. Self-interest, and the interest of the dominant partner in the Union, are clear to anyone who takes the time to look. This will never change, whatever colour or stripe the government in London takes.
Meanwhile, the challenges that the Cardiff Bay administration faces are numerous. Reversing decades of economic and social decline. The need for investment and radical reform of health, social care, transport, and education. With true power, the devil in every detail of these challenges would be surmounted by Wales.
Small is beautiful in the modern era of government. And knowing and understanding all the dusty corners of our own nation, as we Welsh do, is an enormous asset in the creation of effective long-term solutions for bringing success, growth, health, and well-being to us all. But first, we must set ourselves free.
Written by YesCymru Director, Geraint Thomas. Part three of this series will feature next week. Another version of this article was published by Byline Cymru on 30thMarch 2023.